Most bullying among children and teenagers happens in school and there are many great programs underway to address the problem. The characteristics of a bully can help us decide what are the best ways to approach the problem, and as important, what not to do. There has been scientific research on the characteristics of kids who bully, and some of them may surprise you. Not too surprising:
- A bully is more likely to be popular and the victim will be unpopular.
- A bully is more likely to be bigger and more assertive than the victim.
- A bully is more likely to have emotional, developmental, or behavioral problems.
What you may not be as aware of:
- A bully is more likely to have been bullied by his or her parents. Many parents believe in strict or assertive methods of parenting that are in fact bullying. Children are often criticized excessively, humiliated, and embarrassed in the misguided belief this will make the child “shape up” or “teach a lesson.” Parents who get angry at their child a lot or feel the child bothers them too much are likely to be bullies toward the child. This sends just the opposite message the parent probably intends. It tells the child that bullying behavior is acceptable interaction; it teaches the child how to bully; and it motivates the child to bully others to gain the acceptance absent at home.
- A bully’s mother is likely to have less than very good mental health.
- A bully’s parents are less likely to have met the child’s friends.
- A bully’s parents are less likely to share ideas and talk to the child.
The impact that parenting can have on whether a child is a bully is a touchy subject. A bullying parent may have been bullied the same way, and it has become a learned behavior that is hard to break. More public awareness of the role of parenting in the problem would be a good beginning, which is one reason I am writing about it here.
Also, we know that bullying the bully is not an appropriate response to a bullying incident. Even sending a bully home from school on suspension may only invoke bullying at home. The time worn and ineffective “zero tolerance” approach is likely counterproductive.